About a week ago, State Auditor Nicole Galloway, the Democratic front-runner in Missouri's gubernatorial race, held a Joplin town hall in cooperation with Southwest Missouri Democrats.

While the town hall drew some attendance and users asked plenty of questions of the auditor, it was clear the meeting didn't feel like a usual town hall meeting — it was conducted online via Zoom.

"We did replicate a good digital town hall, but it wasn't the same as an in-person town hall," said Krista Stark, director of Southwest Missouri Democrats. "We have put on a lot of those over the years for folks. ... It's impossible to completely replicate the in-the-room type of event, but in this time, we're doing the best we can.

"Campaigning in the coronavirus era has been a challenge, with both Democrats and Republicans trying to figure out the best way to reach their traditional voters and convert new ones in advance of primary elections in August and the general election in November."

As efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 have shut down public spaces, led to layoffs and kept people confined to homes, local and state campaign officials find themselves having to adapt their schedules and, in some cases, discovering advantages.

Leaders of local Republican and Democratic groups say they are a bit behind schedule in a lot of ways. In a normal election year, both groups would be pretty active.

"We'd be going door to door right now," said Alan Griffin, director of the Jasper County Republican Central Committee. "We'd also be ramping up to open our headquarters and get fundraisers going for hats, T-shirts and donations to help pay the rent."

Fundraising has also taken a hit, Griffin said. The committee was forced to cancel its annual Lincoln Day fundraiser — its biggest such event, he said.

Democrats are also behind schedule, Stark said, including in door-to-door campaigning. The group, while still asking for money, is not raising funds as strongly as it normally would be right now, Stark said.

"A lot of people who are our traditional donors are out of work right now, or uncertain about the economy or their jobs," Stark said. "We are definitely being sensitive about fundraising, understanding that it is a hard time financially for people."

Volunteering has changed as well, but people are still finding ways to get involved, both leaders said.

Griffin said local Republicans are waiting until candidates are settled after the August primary election before throwing major work behind candidates. Behind-the-scenes work is going well, however, to organize the pool of volunteers for backing those primary winners.

Stark said volunteers have converted to working from home, either making calls or sending texts, and are getting a lot of work done.

The statewide campaigns of Galloway and Gov. Mike Parson find similar trends occurring in terms of volunteers and fundraising, What makes the efforts of those two front-runners different is their connection to current events.

Parson is running his first gubernatorial campaign — he was appointed to the office in 2018 after replacing Eric Greitens, who resigned his seat in the face of scandals. However, Parson hasn't taken the opportunity to campaign, putting a priority on his role as governor amidst the pandemic, said Steele Shippy, his campaign manager. The governor has halted appearances and fundraising efforts, he said.

"The governor's first priority is to protect Missouri and lead the state," Shippy said. "He's instructed us not to stop completely, but shift gears, so we've transitioned into an information sharing mode."

Efforts have shifted to helping grassroots volunteers engage with others, including directing people to a website, www.parsonupdates.com, that points out what the governor is doing in response to the pandemic.

Galloway is also an active officeholder — she and her staff have been working from home. After her work is done, she is taking part in virtual town halls — Joplin's session last week was one of a "tour" of 18 such sessions.

It's an example of how both campaigns have had to adjust plans made months and months ago.

"(The auditor) has said this before: The campaign has been like replacing the engines on a jet airliner in midair but never losing altitude or speed," said Chris Sloan, Galloway's campaign manager. "We'll hone our operation going forward, but with her still finding ways to get out there and talk to voters speaks to who she is and the type of campaign she wants to run."

Both campaigns say while fundraising has been stunted, volunteer goals have been surpassed. Both camps report higher numbers of volunteers to work phones, send text messages and handle other projects.

But both campaigns also have to deal with how the pandemic poses issues for each party.

As governor, Parson has taken criticism from both sides: Some Democrats criticize his slow action on enacting a stay-at-home order across the state, while some Republicans thought the order went too far. Shippy said the only thing Parson can do is his job.

"The governor is the best candidate he can be when he's doing his job," Shippy said. "He takes great pride in making sure that Missourians come first and the campaign comes second."

While Galloway's campaign doesn't shy away from pointing out problems with Missouri's reaction, she runs the risk of being labeled as opportunistic. Sloan said the campaign is working on highlighting recovery efforts across the country that seem to be working.

"Our strategy has been to look around the country and talk to many people in Missouri, then look around the country at what other people are doing," Sloan said. "We can use the campaign to give voice to ideas from both Democratic and Republican governors that seem to be working."

Only time will tell what the campaigns look like for the rest of the year. The same goes for the local races that Griffin and Stark will watch and assist.

Missouri's primary election is set for Aug. 4, and the general election is Nov. 3.

Joe Hadsall is the digital editor for The Joplin Globe. He has been the editor of the former Nixa News-Enterprise and has worked for the Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine.

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